Let’s Eat!

27Sep12

Sometimes we feel like we’re eating our way across the Southern Cone! As in so many other places around the world, food plays an important role in church life in Argentina and Paraguay. We thought we’d do our best to make you hungry by showing you a smorgasbord of food-related fellowship moments here in South America.


Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:14-17

…but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Matthew 19:14

Which is it? Do we want our faith to be like a child’s (as in Matthew)? Or, do we want it to be like a sword and shield (as in Ephesians)?

Hopefully a couple of images from Pro Cosara can help us better understand these opposing directions.

First, the farm. Sometimes in the course of our faith lives, we are dwelling in the farm. We are here when we know our purpose and our role. There is a community to share in the labor and the harvest. Conditions might be easier or harder; yet we are in it together. Here on the farm, the faith that God calls for from us is indeed the faithfullness of children – to receive the many blessings with thanksgiving, to praise, and to continue laboring.

But every so often we leave the farm and enter periods of faith in the woods. It might be that we find ourselves here because we are going through a transition or role change. Perhaps we are in a new place or with new people. The woods are generally a place of uncertainty and even danger, but also of diversity and growth. Here is where we need to be ready with our spiritual weapons, where our faith is like a sword and shield, to protect us against the unknown.

I think that a big challenge is to recognize when we´re in the farm and when we´re in the woods. For me personally, I need to accept that there are moments of each on the Christian journey. And, I need to learn how to better relate to people on the farm while I’m in the woods and vice versa. There can surely be peace and healing in both places, but the path is very different.


The word “missionary” comes with some heavy historical baggage. In one painful example, missionaries from one of the United Church of Christ (our sending church) predecessor denominations played an important role in the US colonization of Hawaii in the 1880’s and 90´s.

File:'A Missionary Preaching to the Natives, under a Skreen of platted Cocoa-nut leaves at Kairua' by William Ellis.jpg

Nowadays, the UCC and its partner church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), send missionaries not to convert or colonize, but to accompany: to walk with rather than step on. Global Ministries, our sending organization, operates under the concept of “critical presence,” which means, “­­­­meeting God’s people and creation at the point of deepest need—spiritually, physically, emotionally and/or economically.” The organization works with partner organizations that request specific assistance, and, as missionaries, our job is to support our partners as they pursue their own visions and expressions of Christian faith.

Luis Palau

An advertisement in Asunción for a mega-revival with internationally known pastor Luís Palau

I believe strongly in this conception of missionary work, so it has been a challenge for me to adapt to the larger trend here in Argentina and Paraguay of direct personal evangelism. At the root of my discomfort lies the fact that, as a person born into the wealth and privilege of the Global North, I don’t believe I have the right to tell people from another culture and different socioeconomic circumstance what to believe. I certainly communicate aspects of my faith to others, but I do so with the understanding that their relationship with God may be different from my own, because their unique cultural and economic experience may give them a different set of spiritual needs.

Frutero

A fruit vendor outside Asunción’s Disciples of Christ-affiliated Friendship Mission

And so, just as we are not missionaries in the conventional historical sense, neither do we practice a conventional evangelism. Our evangelism is of listening, of presence, of witnessing to the struggles of the churches here in Argentina and Paraguay. Above all, it is an evangelism of allowing our personal journeys of faith to merge with, sustain, and take sustenance from, the journeys of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

A timeline showing important events in the life of the church in Vedia, Argentina

Sometimes this evangelism comes in the form of a workshop about leadership styles, in which we invite our partners to examine and discern their own calls to serve their communities. Sometimes it comes in the form of activities that strengthen the ties between congregations in Argentina and Paraguay. Sometimes it comes in the form of conversation shared over mate, in which we listen to the daily news of our friends’ lives, and let them help us with our own struggles. And sometimes it takes the form of a blog post, where we open ourselves up to you, dear family, friends, and compassionate strangers, expressing how we have been humbled and altered by our experiences here in the Southern Cone.

Mother's Day

Celebrating Mother’s Day at the Disciples of Christ church at Avenida Perú in Asunción


I am open to the possibility that my discomfort with proselytizing makes me a disappointing missionary. But I pray that, just as my own faith is constantly renewed and strengthened by those who have shared mate and fellowship with me, so might I be a conduit of strength and renewal for others.


The flowers appear on the earth;

the time of singing has come,

And the voice of the turtledove

is heard in our land.

The fig tree puts forth its figs,

and the vines are in blossom

they give forth fragrance.

Arise, my love, my fair one,

and come away.

(Song of Songs, 2:12-13)

Friends and family in the northern hemisphere report that fall is coming. But in the Chaco, we’re at the height of Spring! Here are some pictures from around Resistencia and also the town of Vedia, which is an hour north.

The Lapacho comes in pink, yellow, and white, and is prized for its wood, commonly used for building houses.

This lemon tree is bearing fruit while flowering at the same time!

This tree is called the pata de guay because its leaves are shaped like cow hooves.

The white pata de guay reminds me of Yale Divinity School´s magnolia tulips.

Some of these fruits and flowers worked their way into Sunday morning’s preaching workshop – each participant chose an item and shared a brief reflection about it. One talked about how, like leaves on a branch, we are all connected. Another held up a lemon which, though tart, is healthy. And a third noted how wild flowers can be just as beautiful as garden flowers, yet we often don’t value them as much. How about you? Where do you find your mind wandering with the changing of the seasons?

The Mamón tree, a favorite here. We know it as the papaya!

And, the familiar (tasty) mulberry.

 


Resistencia’s artsy side was on display last month with the arrival of the Biennial, an event that brought together sculptors from all over the world to demonstrate their art live in front of thousands of visitors. Twelve artists from countries as far away as South Korea, Syria, and India spent the week turning giant blocks of marble into their own visions of the theme “The Prophecy.” After the Biennial comes to a close, the winning sculptures remain in the city dotting the squares and sidewalks.

“I would go without even thinking about it!”

This year’s theme came about as a response to the Mayan prophecy for 2012. Since the sculptors were identified by country of origin, I found myself thinking about current events and how they were reflected in the sculptures; here is one entitled Svela, by the Syrian Elias Naman. The explanatory text reads, “a woman covered with a veil as the life and future covered by the mystery and the prophecy that reveals these mysteries…”

We enjoyed the international character of the event, especially as it took place around the same time as the Olympics. As missionaries and cultural ambassadors of sorts, it was exciting to participate in such an intercultural moment and to feel how proud the Resistencians are as hosts. I felt hope that the many differences that we find between countries can serve as points of celebration, rather than of conflict.

May cultural connections and sharing continue to bless us and bring us together!


In on the Joke

23Jul12
Youth-led praise team

Youth lead worship on the first night of the congress

We’ve returned to Resistencia after two busy weeks of travel through Paraguay, visiting churches and renewing relationships with friends we haven’t seen in a while. One of the highlights of our recent trip was attending a youth congress at Camp Jack Norment, where we enjoyed two full days of frisbee, campfires, and fellowship.

Unexpectedly, the youth congress also turned out to be an important linguistic turning point for us. I have written about some of our language challenges, and to be sure, we continue to stumble over verbal land mines every day. However, the youth event marked pretty much the first time we have been able to understand Spanish-language jokes. Up till now, something about the combination of colloquial wordplay and the speed at which jokes usually get told have made them hard for us to grasp. A friend would tell a joke and we’d be left blinking in uncertainty while they waited expectantly for our reaction. After a few awkward moments, the obliging comic would clue us in to the double entendres, and only then could we laugh, still digesting our latest lesson in culture and vocabulary.

But this time, we actually got the jokes! Well, most of them anyway. I would share them with you, but of course they don’t translate into English. They hinge on the fact that the word for bread sounds like the word for slippers, or the coincidence that a popular brand of juice sounds like the English word “what” as pronounced with a Paraguayan accent. In their untranslatability, each joke is like a silly little present of linguistic and cultural knowledge, a surprise that only those with the right mix of cultural experience, language skills, and sense of humor will know how to unwrap.

We did hear one joke that does translate (more or less), thanks to the dare-I-say universal appreciation for the absurdity of large and ungainly animals demonstrating some unexpectedly human skills. I’ll let you in on the joke:

1. An elephant playing the guitar
2. A rhinoceros on the bass
3. A hippo on the drums

Q: What kind of music do they play?
A: Heavy metal!

Laughing? If not, perhaps we’ve learned another lesson about humor and culture: no matter what the language, bad jokes will aways be bad jokes.

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Elvis, the King of Choripan

Elvis, the King of chorizo hotdogs: one example of US pop culture with an Argentine twist

Several Argentines now have asked us variations of the question, “So what’s the deal with peanut butter?” What is it, they want to know. What does it taste like? How do you eat it?

Now, peanut butter is hard to find in Argentina. When we do find it—often in health food stores, of all places—it’s expensive ($10 a jar!). No Argentine we know eats it, and yet everyone wants to know all about it. James and I had a mystery on our hands: how had Argentines come to know about peanut butter?

The answer should have been obvious. Through North American movies and TV shows, our friends said. Of course. Just think of all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that big- and small-screen moms tuck into the lunchboxes of their fictional children. In an example from the summer road trip/coming-of-age comedy, Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss (1988), the spoiled little brother flings his salmon salad sandwich onto the highway, whining, “I don’t WANT this dumb sandwich, I wanna peanut butter an’ jelly sanwich!” The offending sandwich is promptly flattened by an oncoming truck, underscoring the brat’s insistence of peanut butter and jelly’s clear superiority over salmon.

Our peanut butter-as-North-American-media-export discovery made us nervous. For one, it made us realize yet again the power of media to create and reinforce culture in our individual and collective subconscious. The fact that it took people from outside US culture to help us identify peanut butter as a US cultural phenomenon underscores how ingrained and subliminal cultural messages can be.

Second, if Argentines pick up on something as mundane as peanut butter, what other aspects of US culture do our media transmit, and what conclusions do people from other cultures draw about the US? And, how do perceptions of North Americans color how Argentines see us as individuals? What stereotypes do we reaffirm as we go about our daily lives, and what responsibility do we have to conform to, explain, or break with these stereotypes?

James and I have no certain answers. Rather, we find that we negotiate dozens of cultural mini-dilemmas every day as we attempt to find our place in our new host culture. But we will admit that cultural confusion goes down a lot better with a big spoonful of peanut butter.


Yesterday, the Republic of Paraguay experienced an abrupt transition in leadership as President Fernando Lugo was impeached and then removed from office in a period of less than 48 hours. His vice president, Federico Franco, has assumed the Presidency and is moving quickly to consolidate power. So far as we know there have been no reports of violence but the situation remains tenuous, as many people feel that President Lugo did not receive an adequate opportunity to defend himself before Congress.

Please keep Paraguay and our churches there in your prayers!!


Culture Shock

15Jun12

James and I are recovering from culture shock. We can say we’re in recovery thanks to our handy Survival Kit for Overseas Living, which explains that the toughest weeks of culture shock usually come about three months into one’s adjustment to a new country. We’re now in month five, and are happily trending back up to our normal states of being.

If you need a refresher on the concept of culture shock, here’s how L. Robert Kohls, the author of Survival Kit, describes it:

[Culture shock] does not result from a specific event or series of events. It comes instead from the experience of encountering ways of doing, organizing, perceiving, or valuing things that are radically different from yours and which threaten your basic, unconscious belief that your enculturated customs, assuptions, values, and behaviours are “right.”

Aliens have landed

As this street art from Montevideo, Uruguay conveys, culture shock means that sometimes we feel like aliens.

In other words, our lives in the US fill us with a repertoir of values and social cues that help us navigate our culture and inform us of how we fit into US society. Every interaction—how we wait in line, how we talk to strangers, how we argue, even what products we buy—all reflect our culture.

James and my culture shock reveals itself in various ways. Some days we’re depressed, some days we argue, some days we bury ourselves in English language books or mindlessly surf our favorite websites. Often our longings for what’s familiar express themselves in our dreams: a few weeks ago, I dreamt I was in a Trader Joe’s grocery store, stocking up on foods that I miss here in the Southern Cone. I found myself buying a mountain of dried cranberries, almonds, and pretzels to take back to Argentina, as if I could reach into the snack aisle of my subconscious and provision myself with comfort foods for the long journey through cranberry-less South America (well, not quite cranberry-less).

But, as I said, we are in recovery. Little by little, we notice changes in ourselves that tell us that a gradual adjustment is taking place. And every time we come back to Resistencia after a trip to Buenos Aires or Paraguay, our house feels a little more like home.


“Well done, good and faithful servant.” – Matthew 25:21

Jorgelina Lozada was the first ordained female in Latin America, a member of the Disciples of Christ church here in Argentina. Recently, Blanca Staude de Martínez and Ester Iglesias de Lugo, both female pastors in the Disciples, published a compelling biography of Rev. Lozada. This is available on the Global Ministries website in English:

http://globalministries.org/news/lac/jorgelina-lozada.html

and, in Spanish:

http://globalministries.org/news/news/Lozada-27-03-12.pdf

We recommend it to you and extend our gratitude to Pastors Martínez and Lugo for their hard work. Many blessings!